Young people "can't afford to work
for free" says Intern magazine founder

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News: the founder of a new magazine celebrating the work of interns in the creative industry has spoken of the dangers of creating a culture on unpaid labour (+ interview + slideshow).

Intern magazine

"We would welcome a move away from unpaid positions," said Alec Dudson, who is trying to raise money on Kickstarter to launch Intern magazine in the UK. "The danger across all industries is that a culture is fostered whereby young talent thinks nothing of unpaid work and puts up with arrangements that are far from beneficial," says Dudson.

However, Dudson said that unpaid positions can sometimes be beneficial to young people. "Unpaid positions can, in circumstances that satisfy the intern's needs, be useful experiences for those trying to break into the industry," he said, responding to D&AD chairman Dick Powell's recent speech advising graduates to "work for nothing".

Yesterday Powell clarified his remarks, saying unpaid work is not "acceptable on any level".

Intern magazine for creative industries

Intern magazine aims to showcase work from talented creatives currently interning in the creative industry, and raise debate on the culture of internships. Manchester-based Dudson told Dezeen: "Our intention is to empower interns through the publication."

Intern magazine for creative industries

Dudson founded the magazine after a two-month paid internship with Domus in Milan and voluntary work with Boat magazine in London. "I gained a lot from my internships, but I had to sacrifice a lot in order to do them," he said.

Intern magazine has launched a funding campaign on Kickstarter this month, which runs until Wednesday 7 August 2013. If the fundraising is successful, issue one will go on sale in October 2013. Here's the campaign video:

Here's the full interview with Dudson:


Kate Andrews: Why did you decide to start Intern magazine?

Alec Dudson: I set out on my first internship in the magazine industry last March with Domus in Milan. After two months there, moved to London and worked for the remainder of the year with Boat. Realising after what were two wonderful, yet financially tough, experiences that I was no closer to my dream position with a magazine, I started to explore the possibilities of setting up my own. Inspired by my own relatively brief time in the world of internships and the experiences of others I had met, it struck me that the ideal subject for such an endeavour was right before my eyes.

I knew from my time at Boat how slender the opportunities to make a profit off print publications were, so any project I did set out on was going to need to undertaken by me alone, wherever possible. Fortunately, Chris, one of the freelance designers at Boat during my stint there, was just setting up design studio She Was Only with a couple of friends and they were prepared to take on the project's design and art direction. Without them, I would have struggled to get the idea off the ground.

Kate Andrews: Were your internships with Domus and Boat magazine paid or unpaid?

Alec Dudson: At Domus I was paid €400 a month, which just about covered my rent when I was out there. Boat was not but I approached them and was fully aware of the situation before I started.

Kate Andrews: When does the first issue come out?

Alec Dudson: Our Kickstarter campaign runs until August 7th. Should we successfully raise the £5500 or more, I hope to have issue one on sale in September or October at the latest. While a portion of our content is already down and good to go, my helpless desire for perfection and the difficulties in rounding up final drafts of all the articles will inevitably cause some delays. But I firmly intend for the magazine to be very much worth the wait. Anyone backing us to the tune of £1 or more will be kept in the loop regarding the issue's progress allowing our backers to come with us on the journey towards our launch.

Intern magazine for creative industries

Kate Andrews: What will be in the first issue?

Alec Dudson: The first issue will feature a selection of work by interns from around the world alongside a balanced debate that also see contributions from those established in the creative industries.

Kate Andrews: What are your thoughts about internships, particularly unpaid internships, in the creative industries?

Alec Dudson: I don't necessarily feel that the creative industries are any better or worse than other industries with regard to how they treat and value unpaid and junior talent, but I do feel that they make a fascinating case study.

The danger across all industries is that a culture is fostered whereby young talent thinks nothing of working unpaid and puts up with arrangements that are far from beneficial. I personally feel I gained a lot from my internships but I had to sacrifice a lot in order to work them, still I am luckier than most as I was in a position where I could make the situation work. A great deal of people simply can't afford to work for free and by creating situations where only those who can afford are granted access to the industries, you engender a scenario where the pool of talent being picked from is already very selective. Surely this is a morally perplexing scenario for the creative industries as creativity isn't something only people of a certain social class have or can articulate?

Kate Andrews: What advice would you give to graduates hoping to enter the creative industries?

Alec Dudson: My advice to new talent would be to have the confidence to value yourself and your time. If you end up working unpaid for a studio or company whose work you adore, yet you aren't given the sort of hands on experience that you desire, or aren't made to feel an important part of the team, don't be afraid to walk away. Doing so in a civil manner won't stop you being able to list them on your CV and get a reference.

The best internships out there are those where trust is placed in the intern and they are allowed a degree of creative freedom and involvement in the day-to-day. It might not seem like it, but there are some great places out there that provide these sort of experiences, they pay as well. Confidence in your ability and the confidence to communicate that ability are key in breaking into the creative industries.

Intern magazine for creative industries

Kate Andrews: Do you think unpaid work is okay or not?

Alec Dudson: I think there remain situations where it can be beneficial. I certainly wouldn't have had the confidence or the know-how to approach [this project] if it had not been from my time with Boat magazine. Ideally, of course, all positions would be paid. But I think if those contemplating internships have a better idea of what to expect and what isn't acceptable when it comes to free work, then a lot of the exploitative unpaid positions can be eradicated.

Kate Andrews: Are internships a good thing?

Alec Dudson: Again, in their purest form, absolutely. A good internship is one where the transaction - in a non-monetary sense - is enriching for both parties. By treating interns as a valuable resource and a part of the team, employers can get far more than an eager worker in return. From the intern's perspective, someone who values their contribution and trusts them, offering guidance where needed can be of great value going forward. Of course these experiences are always subjective but there are too many instances where the arrangement offers little for the intern that little or no monetary compensation can justify.

Kate Andrews: Will Intern magazine be taking on interns? Will they be paid?

Alec Dudson: We won't be taking on interns. We will be sourcing contributions from interns and unpaid workers in the creative industries and paying them for their contribution. The reality is that this won't be a full professional rate, but as a new publication and one with a model for steady sustainable growth, we will pay as much as we can. It is the hope that as the magazine grows, sooner rather than later, those payments will reflect a professional rate.

Kate Andrews: What stance will the magazine take on unpaid internships?

Alec Dudson: Our position can't be overly vitriolic as it would undermine our ability to host a debate of any worth. However, it is clear enough from our stance on paying our contributors that we would welcome a move away from unpaid positions. Internships can be a positive thing to do. We will feature stories from those who we believe provide excellent internships but will not waste our time bad-mouthing those who don't. A key means of enriching the intern experience for all concerned is providing the tools - in terms of advice and tales of others' experience - that enable those applying for internships to be more discerning and that is one of the magazine's main intentions.

Intern magazine

Kate Andrews: What are your thoughts on Sou Fujimoto's comments about unpaid architecture internships in Japan?

Alec Dudson: The RIBA's stance [in calling for people to report unpaid internships in the UK] is an important attempt to clean house of the UK architecture industry. The debate may not have much footing in Japan at the moment but it will be interesting to see if that remains the case going forward. If the interns are highly involved in model building and, with that, real projects, then I imagine it can be a really great experience for them, particularly with a firm with huge international status.

Where it gets morally perplexing is that realistically, few can afford to work for three to six months unpaid for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. If this is during studies or with a scholarship in place then I imagine it is easier but it is those who have the talent yet are financially restricted from getting that experience that we should be worrying about and that the debate needs driving forward for.

Kate Andrews: What about Dick Powell's recent speech that advised people to "work for nothing" to break into the industry?

Alec Dudson: Unpaid positions can, in circumstances that satisfy the intern's needs, be useful experiences for those trying to break into the industry and I think that is what he is suggesting. But it is a bit disappointing that a prominent figure associated with a foundation like D&AD is encouraging graduates to specifically seek out unpaid work.

  • Ahill

    My concern is that sometimes prominent studios have un-paid internships and because of financial reasons it is not always the best candidate that gets or even applies for these positions, but rather the ones that can afford it (young people with wealthy parents).

    This only perpetuates the elite nature of design industries (architecture in my case) and makes it difficult for talented middle-class students/interns to work and learn on certain levels. Internships are of course very important in ones development as a designer, but I also need to be able to afford a box of KD.

    • lemi

      Very reasonable, but in my experience, 20 years ago in the heart of the Australian recession, not dissimilar to the current European one, well at least for the architecture industry, the wealthy graduates were ‘connected’ and received fully paid positions and in one case a wealthy peer became a partner of an 80 year old firm within 3 years! Anyone not connected was either driving taxis, working in Singapore or the like.

      A genuine love and drive for architecture will not be extinguished by worldly impediments. Even if that desire only manifests as sketches of hypothetical projects on a napkin. As clients are usually aesthetically illiterate dicks most built projects don’t make great profits for the Architects, I suggest that pathos for most architects is exercised in their hypothetical projects.

      I believe Dick wasn’t being a ‘dick’ but sincere about the invaluable cache that experience gives you in the long run, even if it means you need a second or third job to get you by. I worked part time for free for 3 years whilst studying and selling hot dogs in clubs till the early hours of the morning and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandra_Wolf @Alexandra_Wolf

    I’m glad that the subject of intern treatment is coming up more often. I agree that changes need to be made to foster empowerment.

  • chaser martinsyde

    I suspect I’m stating the obvious, but rebuilding the position of the design industry in our evolving global economic culture surely must begin with a “ground up” strategy. The future IS the intern, and to perpetuate the old practices which corrupted the industry’s image only symbolizes our failure to have learned from history.

    Respect begins with oneself. Might we begin by outing those enterprises which still attempt to justify the exploitation of the passionate beginners?

  • chaser martinsyde

    If I may add a postscript. Efforts such as this magazine which seek to further institutionalize the intern practices, as the US AIA and the various state licensing boards have done, in my view have failed to adequately address the practice of unpaid positions (a practice not followed by other professions) in their efforts to … be politically correct? … fear to engage in controversy? … follow bizarre axioms about honey and vinegar?

    Can this magazine seriously expect interns to feel adequately represented when its founder endorses a strategy of slow and steady change, thus ensuring that most interns working at the time of this magazine’s first publishing will have, by attrition, long moved on by the time any seeming progress might be made?

    Frankly I am more than concerned, I am suspect of Intern’s real agenda, if in light of the response to Powell’s recent address, clearly demonstrating unpaid positions of prime concern to the intern, and question whether its prime motivations are in the best interest of the intern.

  • Alex

    It sounds to me just an excuse for a graphic designer to have created a magazine. The subject could have been toothpicks, or white rabbits or condensed milk. He is not really taking a position.

    • http://www.philwilson.ca Phil Wilson

      I’m sorry, but if you look at all the other comments you would see that this post regarding ‘Intern Magazine’ has fuelled an important discussion. The point of the magazine is not to take a position but be a platform for debate – and it seems to be accomplishing that.

      Would I pick up or contribute to an issue? Who knows, but the the fact is that it is an important topic that needs to be discussed and addressed. We should all be compensated for the hard work that we do.

  • christine

    Funny debate that can only happen in a Western economy. In the rest of the world, it would be called slavery.